This is the only home we know, do not send us away

Monday May 9 2016

Refugees at Daadab camp in eastern Kenya.

Refugees at Daadab camp in eastern Kenya. Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR on April 21, 2015 agreed to form a commission to oversee repatriation of the over 350,000 foreigners to Somalia. FILE PHOTO | AFP

By ABDULLAHI ABDI HASSAN

When my father was killed on the eve of the Somali government’s collapse in 1991, my mother fled with her children to Kenya. I was seven years old then and have since lived at the Dadaab refugee camp.

Dadaab is a place that tests human resilience. I struggled to survive in a context of hopelessness, helplessness, and harassment while at the same time trying to cope with adverse conditions such as frequent food and water shortages and lack of adequate sanitation.

Despite all this, Dadaab offered me and my family what Somalia could not: safety and a chance to acquire an education, even if these were available only in tents in a dry and parched environment.

The announcement last week by Kenya’s Principal Secretary in the Interior Ministry, Dr Karanja Kibicho, that the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps would be closed has left many like me wondering whether we will now be truly homeless. You see, Dadaab is the only home we know.

CITED INSECURITY

Dr Kibicho cited insecurity and economic and environmental burdens as the reasons for the closure. He said that it is time the Kenyan government reconsidered the whole issue of hosting refugees and the tripartite agreement between the governments of Kenya and Somalia and the United Nations.

The principal secretary’s statement, released on May 6, 2016, that the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) would be disbanded, has been devastating to the refugee students studying in Nairobi away from the camps.

If the DRA is disbanded, all refugee movement passes will be rendered invalid. This will no doubt lead to increased harassment of refugee students studying in Nairobi as they will have no legal status.

Closing down the camps will mean untold suffering for people who, through no fault of their own, now call Kenya home.

My appeal to Dr Kibicho is this: Please, do not close Dadaab and Kakuma camps because we do not have anywhere else to go.

On April 28, 2016, I attended a workshop on displacement and refugees at the Goethe Institute in Nairobi. It was attended by several refugees from Dadaab and a former Somali minister of Constitutional Affairs and Reconciliation, who is also a current Somali member of Parliament, Mr Abdihosh Jibril.

He talked about the tragedy of the 400 people who drowned in the sea while trying to cross to Europe. Many of the dead were Somalis, some even refugees from the Kenyan camps.

NO REFUGEE ARRAIGNED IN COURT

Mr Jibril expressed little hope of the possibility that more refugees from the camps could be accommodated in Somalia. He said the Somali government was unable to take care of the thousands of internally displaced people in the country.

The reasons that have been cited for the planned closure of the refugee camps are unfounded. None of the terrorists who attacked the Westgate mall in Nairobi or the Garissa University College were from Dadaab. Not a single refugee was arraigned in court for either of these attacks. We, including Dadaab refugees, are all victims of Al-Shabaab.

Refugee activities add to the economy of Kenya. Kenyan families benefit from employment at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organisations that operate in the camps. The host communities benefit from refugee programmes.

Somali refugees living in Kenya now find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Despite the tripartite agreement signed in November 2013 between UNHCR, Kenya, and Somalia, few refugees have voluntarily agreed to return to Somalia. In fact, some of those who were repatriated have come back and are among the 9,000 unregistered new arrivals at Dadaab.

After offering people like me hospitality for 25 years, it is harsh for the Kenyan government to abruptly shut down the refugee camps. Many of my generation believe that Kenya is the only country we can live as a citizen — or at least as a recognised refugee.

Mr Hassan is a freelance writer and currently a student in Nairobi. [email protected]

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